The Dutch government wants to stop the tours as they believe the area is suffering from overtourism and that walking tours of the neighborhood exploit the lingerie-clad sex workers in neon-lit windows as tourist attractions.
The Prostitution Information Center (PIC) is an organization that gives community-led walking tours of the Red Light District.
The PIC is a small sex worker-led nonprofit community space centrally located in the Red Light District. Founded in 1994 by Mariska Majoor, a former sex worker, the organization’s mission is to inform the public about the realities of the industry and the concerns of its workers.
Walking tours of the Red Light District
CNN Travel spoke with Mariana, a sex worker in the Red Light District who prefers to use an alias, about her reaction to the government shutting down walking tours of the area.
“Tour groups can be harmful if they stand in front of your window, take your picture, point at you or if the guide spews a bunch of nonsense that isn’t true about the work. But the groups can be good when the guides educate the tourists about our work and dispel myths about us to fight against stigma.” Mariana says that some tourists even become clients.
The PIC has been organizing education walks for more than 10 years.
For over a decade, the PIC has organized educational walking tours in which former sex workers lead small groups around the Red Light District. They once hosted around 22,000 visitors annually but attendance has reduced in recent years due to steep competition from commercial tour companies. Unlike other tours of the Red Light District, the PIC experience is an informative and heartfelt tour rooted in respect for sex workers and the community.
Amsterdam’s Red Light District has been a center for sex work since the 1200s.
Guests visit Belle, the first monument ever erected to honor sex workers. Majoor worked with artist Els Rijerse to create this bronze statue of a woman standing in a doorway.
Open dialogue is encouraged during the tour. No questions are off limits as long as the queries are rooted in respect. There’s also no minimum age for the tour, though PIC says participants tend to be at least 15 or 16.
If younger members are in a group, PIC modifies the story as necessary. Photos are not allowed on the PIC Red Light District tour to respect the sex workers and their clients’ privacy. The tours are available every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 5-6.30 p.m. for €17.50 (around $19).
‘My Red Light’ is a brothel in Amsterdam’s Red Light District.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien for CNN
Fighting for sex workers’ rights
“To stop exploitation in the sex industry, give sex workers labor rights and recognize their human rights so they can seek justice for themselves. Teach people to respect all sex workers, regardless of age, gender, race, nationality, etc. If people continue to think about all sex workers as female victims they’ll be overlooking trans and male sex workers. If sex workers are recognized as legal laborers who have rights and must be respected, then people will less be inclined to exploit or abuse them,” says Mariana.
To further protect sex workers in the Red Light District from leerers who take unwanted photographs, the “No Photos or Filming” campaign was recently launched. As part of the campaign, coasters, window stickers and street decals have been distributed throughout the neighborhood which feature a hand blocking the lens of a camera along with the statement “respect sex workers” and “no photos or filming of the sex workers.”
According to the PIC Facebook page, “Sex workers welcome all tourists but are sick and tired of being photographed or filmed. So dear tourists, look at them through your eyes, not through the camera.”
The Red Light District isn’t the only area in Amsterdam seeing changes. The world famous “I Amsterdam” sign has been relocated outside of the city center. New hotels and souvenir shops are no longer being built.
Learn the truth about the Red Light District while you can
The PIC has yet to learn about whether they’ll still be legally allowed to run their educational tours that directly support sex workers. “We hope that non-profit, community-based organizations with a mission to support the neighborhood and workers in the neighborhood may be considered differently from the many large commercial tour companies,” says van der Linde. She says that PIC believes the walking tours “are important in our struggle to fight stigma and promote respect for sex workers.”
For now, a government-imposed curfew on tours has been put into effect. Groups must leave the Red Light District by 7 p.m. Previously tours were allowed to end at 11 p.m. Tour guides who break the regulations will be fined the equivalent of $213.
The information center will remain open even if the tours are banned. People are always welcome to visit the PIC which is also a café with coffee, snacks, and a massive library of reading materials about sex work. If you’re visiting Amsterdam soon don’t miss out on the PIC walking tour before it’s possibly gone for good.